Goobertown shirts a hit at local grocer

The Goobertown Grocery on U.S. 49 is a quick stop for nearby residents hungry for a lunchtime cold-cut sandwich and soda or kitchen staples such as bread or milk, but it's also a pit stop for travelers passing through to get to another destination.

Yet perhaps the store's biggest sellers are the popular "Goobertown, Arkansas" T-shirts that feature a personified peanut after which the tiny community is supposedly named.

The existing grocery store was built in 1926, said Calvin Banks, who has co-owned the business with his wife, Lucille, for 15 years. But before that, there was another Goobertown Grocery, he said. At one time the highway curved behind the store, he said. But now U.S. 49 is in front of the store. And according to Banks, it was the railway that pushed the majority of the population from Goobertown to the bottomlands at the edge of Brookland.

Banks, a Bay native, and his wife, a Trumann area native, bought the store from his brother and sister-in-law, Bob and Rosie Banks. The first Banks couple bought the grocery store immediately before the state's sesquicentennial in 1986, he recalled.

At that time, it was his sister-in-law who came up with the idea to sell a T-shirt that features Goobertown, the name of the community between Brookland and Paragould some 40 residents strong.

She asked a woman to design a logo for the T-shirts that would be sold at the store.

"They were selling the shirts when we took over the store," he said. "It went along with the store. At times we sell a lot of them."

In addition to children's T-shirts and adult T's up to size XXXL, the store also sells bumper stickers and caps that feature the logo. T-shirt colors include red, pink, black, green, orange, tan, gray and navy and light blues. However, he said, the most popular colors are pink for women and red, black and green for men. They started carrying pink when an Arkansas State University student asked for that color, Banks said.

"Now, every time we order, we get pink ones. I need to place an order. I've got people coming by every day. They're wanting some, and I'm out of what they want," he said.

Billy Wilson, a friend and regular customer of Goobertown Grocery, said people from all over the country stop by to buy T-shirts from the Bankses.

"Usually two or three people a day come by to get the shirts because they say, Goobertown,"' Wilson said. "They're pretty popular."

Banks said he and his wife have sold T-shirts to people from as far away as southern Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan and Washington.

"We've spread them around," Banks said.

The business owner said he thinks the T-shirts are so popular because they appeal to a simpler time.

"Everybody's into nostalgia. It's something kind of unique," he said.

The image on the shirts is based on the story of how Goobertown was named.

"During the Civil War there were Confederate troops camped in this area. They ate wild peanuts while they were here," Banks said. "After the war they came back with their families and settled here and went to raising peanuts."

According to the Roadside Thoughts Web sites, the name Goobertown is unique.

Banks said a writer came through Northeast Arkansas around 2005 and asked the couple a bunch of questions and took photographs of them for a book.

About a year later Gary Gladstone published "Reaching Climax and Other Towns Along the American Highway" in 2006. Other towns listed in his book include Detour, Md.; Idiotville, Ore. and Double Trouble, N.J.

Gladstone sent them a copy of the book, but before he could, family members of the Banks spotted it in a Memphis bookstore.

A couple of friends attended the Trace Adkins concert at the ASU Convocation Center in 2006. They told Banks that Adkins was wearing a blazer, and when he took it off, he was wearing a "Goobertown, Arkansas," T-shirt underneath. There's a photograph of Adkins displayed in the store.

"He made the comment that he'd like to be the mayor of Goobertown," Banks quipped.